Fountain Pen Friday: Q&A

I’ve ordered a couple new pens to review, but didn’t have any to do a review this week. Instead I’ve asked for questions (both serious and silly) to answer this week.

Q: What color inks are staining your fingers right now? -Brian

A: None. I’ve actually been composing on the computer this week rather than by hand. I’ve got a nice avocado colored cartridge in the Poquito that I’ve been using to journal with but have somehow avoided smearing it on my fingers.  (Update: by the end of doing the pictures for this blog entry my fingers ended up stained green, red, and brown)

Q: What do you carry when you are traveling?

A: This is always changing. I have Petit1 pens and the Penmanship in my purse right now, but when I go on longer trips I have various pen cases I take with a wide variety of pens and inks. I don’t think I’ve taken the same pens on two different trips.

Q: What does your signature look like?


Q: When did you start using fountain pens and why?

A: I bought some Pilot Varsity disposables back when they were first offered (early 90s?)… and I hated them. It wasn’t until I got discouraged at the available ink colors when I started drafting in non-blue or black colors that I looked at fountain pens again and bought myself a Lamy All-Star… and it’s been an addiction ever since.

Q: If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

A: Birch. Duh.

Q: How the hell do I pick ink? Where do I get it? -Lily

A: I pick ink based almost entirely on color, I don’t mind ending up a little smudged with ink and I don’t have good reasons to use waterproof ink so I don’t worry about ink formulas. However, that is entirely a personal preference. I’d strongly recommend if you’re just starting out to get a bunch of samples of the type of inks you’re contemplating from Yes! Samples! They will send you a little vial of ink that will fill your average pen 2-3 times (check out their available samples here) I’ve found that the cheapest place to get standard cartridges is ebay. Proprietary cartridges and full-size bottles of ink can be bought from the same places you buy fountain pens. Amazon, Jetpens, Gouletpens and your well-stocked art departments (such as at a University Bookstore).

Q: How do I refill the pen without enacting what looked like an ink cartridge beat down in my kitchen? -Lily

A: Lots and lots of paper towels. Ok, I’m being a bit facetious, though having paper towels on hand does help. I asked for a picture of the pen mechanism in question.


Ok, now cartridges are filled before they go on to a pen, but cartridges are filled while attached to the pen. I know, it didn’t make sense to me at first either. It wasn’t until I figured out you actually end up wearing a lot less ink this way that I decided to fill all my pens with the converter attached. So, with the converter attached like you see in the picture above you dip the full nib of the pen (the metal tip part) into the ink and then twist the converter to draw up the plunger inside thus creating a vacuum and filling both the pen and the converter.  Tap the pen against the inside edge of the ink bottle to get rid of extra ink, and then wipe it on rag or paper towel, screw the body of the pen back on and Bob’s your Uncle.

Q: How many octopuses are milked for ink for a single pen? Or do multiple pens make up a single inking? -@starlightgeek 

A: Well, first you have to give the octopus a cookie…

Actually, while you can write with octopus ink, I’d be pretty hesitant to put it into a fountain pen because I’d be afraid it would either cause corrosion or if it dried out in the pen it would be impossible to clean out due to mucus. However, it turns out that the original sepia ink was made from cuttlefish ink mixed with shellac.  All hail the power of Google:

Q: Does licking the nib actually help? -@starlightgeek

A: I… have no idea. I have honestly never tried. I work in a museum and the number one rule about museums is “THOU SHALT NOT LICK ANYTHING”. So it’s never occurred to me to try and I can’t imagine the ink would taste very good and might have stuff you’d rather not ingest in it.

Q: which is your favorite color ink to use in spells to summon the dead? -@starlightgeek

A: That’s a tie between Noodler’s Red-Black which is a very dark reddish color and Noodler’s Antietam which looks like dried blood.

Q: Evolution from quill to fountain pen. Pen accessories, such as blotting paper. When did they stop sanding? -@ULTRAGOTHA
A: Wow. I’m afraid that the evolution question is a little above my paygrade. I’m just an amateur fountain pen user. I imagine someone got sick and tired of constantly dipping their dip pen (which had been the metal improvement on the quill) and decided there had to be a better way. (Let’s check the internet: & seem like some pretty good quick look at the topic). I haven’t used blotting paper myself as I have plenty of paper towels and don’t own anything I’m afraid to touch with said paper towels. As for the last question there, I’m assuming you mean when did they stop sanding nibs? I understand that people still grind nibs to come up with customized writing instruments, but I think some of the sanding had to do with getting built-up india ink off of dip pens, but that’s outside my experience.
Q: Has there been any alternatives for lefties other than that wild-looking nib?
A: I am right-handed, but I do write in very small notebooks and have my own problems with smearing my own writing. So, to simulate lefty-hand-dragging directly on what you’ve just written I drew a line and followed it with a knuckle pressed to the paper.
So there are three things that effect how much the ink smears are: paper, ink, and nib width. As you can see the post-it smears way worse than the notebook (Woot unlined). Also the wider parallel nib smears more than the others. I don’t keep fast-drying ink around, but that can also help. What really trips up lefties are flexible nibs because the design of how it is meant to work with the motion of right hand writing and so it ends up splattering ink.  However, most of your lower-priced fine-nib pens are going to work fine for lefties as long as you don’t write on super smooth paper that holds the ink on the surface longer. There are left-handed student pens (such as: but I can’t speak for their usefulness.
Q:What’s a good starter fountain pen? Why do you love them so much? What are their advantages over more plebeian pens? -@SaraEileen
A: Y’know… I think I’m going to give you a good range of stuff. I think you would really like the Petit1 not only in the fountain pen version but also in the brush pen version. I think for writing the Poquito or the Metropolitan are pretty good starter pens. A lot of people start with the Lamy Al-star but I’m not sure it’s the best starter since it does have the ergonomic grip. The reason I love fountain pens is the same reason I love nail polish, you can use so many colors! You also re-use almost everything so there’s less waste over other pens and using a converter it’s cheaper to use bottled ink over disposable pens (but really I’m in this for the colors).
Q: Also, will they bite me? I’m very concerned about this. -@SaraEileen
A: No. They will occasionally get a little ink on you but its no worse than any other kind of art medium.
Q: ‏Tell me about changing nibs. What’s up with that? I’ve only done it with Lamy. -@christieyant
A: I haven’t done it at all. I understand how to do it on the Lamy but that’s the only pen I own that has changeable nibs (that I know of).  However, I will take this opportunity to point people at the information section of Goulet Pens which actually has videos and answers most question you can ever have about how to do things.
Q: If I spill the ink from a fountain pen and it forms a puddle, should I toss a penny in it for a wish? -@nisamcp
A: It depends on if the puddle is on your floor or someone else’s and how fast you can run.
Q: Do you draw with the pens, or just write stuff?-@JeffreyPetersen
A: I doodle a bit, but I’m not much of an artist.
Q:Have you ever bested a swordsman using a pen?-@JeffreyPetersen
A: No, it ended in a draw.